September 6, 2022
Did the Seattle Storm just let their season slip away?
How Seattle can recover and force a Game 5
The Las Vegas Aces are now just one semifinals win away from eliminating the Seattle Storm and moving on to the finals after a thrilling 110-98 victory in Seattle on Sunday. The Storm took the first game of the series, defeating the Aces 76-73, but haven’t been able to pull out a win since.
After trailing by as much as 15 points during the first half, there was a glimmer of hope for Seattle when they were able to pull ahead with 54.2 seconds left in regulation. In the last minute of the game, Tina Charles failed to connect on free throws that could have sealed the deal for the Storm, though Sue Bird made up for it by draining an incredible three-pointer to put the Storm back on top. But the game wasn’t over yet: a gap in the Storm’s defensive rotation left Jackie Young open on the block for a layup with 0.2 seconds remaining, tying the game and sending it into overtime.
Up until this point, it felt as though Seattle was keeping calm despite the fast tempo that the Aces were pushing. But in overtime, Seattle’s schemes fell apart. The Aces went on a 12-2 run with help from Chelsea Gray, Riquna Williams, and even a three-pointer from center Kiah Stokes, only her fifth three of the season. Out of character missed free throws from Breanna Stewart and poor shot selection from other Storm players led to the Storm’s demise.
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Seattle has two more chances to bounce back from this loss and advance to the WNBA Finals, but it is going to be difficult. The Storm will need to win Game 4 on Tuesday to force a Game 5, which they would also need to win to advance. This is scenario is definitely possible for the Storm, but many adjustments need to be made before Game 4.
First, Seattle needs to figure out how to shut down Chelsea Gray. Gray is having an incredible playoff run, shooting 63.8% and averaging 22.6 points, 4 rebounds, and 7.2 assists for the Aces. Storm head coach Noelle Quinn has tried many different defensive matchups on Gray throughout the series, including putting all three of Seattle’s WNBA All-Defensive team winners, Breanna Stewart, Ezi Magbegor, and Gabby Williams, on defense against her. But Gray’s ability to sink highly-contested shots in high-pressure moments has been the Achilles heel of the Storm’s defense. Williams returned to Seattle’s lineup on Sunday after missing the first two games of the semifinals due to a concussion. While Gray’s stats suggest otherwise, Williams’ defense on Gray was the most effective of any of the possible Storm players to be matched up with her.
In this clip, you can see Williams playing incredibly tight defense on Gray, despite the strong A’ja Wilson screen, which the Storm struggled to find a solution to throughout most of the game. Even with Williams’ body right in front of her and her hand right in her face, Gray is still able to sink a tricky shot. Now that Williams has faced the challenge, will she be able to better guard Gray in Game 4?
The second adjustment may seem very basic, but it was incredibly detrimental to the Storm’s success: making free throws. As mentioned before, Charles’ two missed free throws with 7.2 seconds remaining in regulation would have put the Storm ahead by two possessions, making it a bit more difficult for the Aces to tie the game. In overtime, Stewart also failed to make either of her awarded free throws, which could have given the Storm a spark offensively.
As for the shot selection and gaps in defense at the end of regulation and into overtime, Quinn said in her somber postgame press conference, “All of what happened end of game, all of our execution things, that falls on me.” Quinn also took the blame for the choice of playing the Storm’s starters for 4 of the 5 minutes of overtime before subbing in Magbegor and Stephanie Talbot, who were both playing very well for the Storm in the fourth quarter.
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While there were definitely mistakes made by Storm players and coaches, there were also some controversial calls by officials and possible timing mistakes by ESPN that fans, coaches, and players are still discussing as factors that could have decided the game. The first was a layup by A’ja Wilson that put the Aces ahead 90-89 with 2.7 seconds remaining that many spectators, even Quinn, thought should have been called as a travel.
The next controversy was a discrepancy of time on the clock in Climate Pledge Arena and the clock shown on the ESPN broadcast. After the three point shot made by Bird, the play was reviewed by officials to ensure that the right time was on the clock. On the broadcast, 1.8 seconds was put on the clock, but according to journalists in the arena, 0.8 seconds were on the clock for the Aces’ possession. This discrepancy during a key moment in the game caused outrage from fans and added a complicated layer to this already interesting game.
Looking ahead to Game 4, which tips at 10:15 PM ET Tuesday night, there is no doubt that the Storm can play with the Aces Despite only winning the first game of the series so far, Seattle has been very evenly matched with Las Vegas. The games have come down to which team can execute at the end of the game, and the Storm has not been the team to do so in Game 2 and 3.
The difference here is, if the Storm don’t, their season is over.